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Concussion spotters to be used at 2022 World Cup

Concussion spotters are to be introduced at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar; it has been announced.

The news comes after concerns that repeated concussions could lead to long term health problems such as dementia.

Research has already shown that footballers are likely to develop dementia. The FIELD (Football's Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk) study, commissioned by both the FA and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) in 2019, found the “first links between playing professionally and dying from dementia”. The study revealed that former professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than those of the same age range in the general population.

Ex-Norwich players Iwan Roberts and Jeremy Goss have recently backed a £1 million study at the University of East Anglia which will test players for early signs of the disease.

Now FIFA is to introduce extra protections for players at the game's biggest competition. The concussion spotters at next year’s World Cup will be used to help make football’s treatment of head injuries an “awful lot safer” and will be a first at a major international football tournament. They are already in use in the NFL and rugby union and were previously trialled during FIFA's Club World Cup.

The concussion spotters will be placed in the stands at games and tasked with identifying possible brain injuries which may have been missed by medical staff on the touchline. Team doctors will also be able to watch video replays at all FIFA tournaments to look for signs of concussion, according to the governing body's medical director Andrew Massey. Massey recently said in an interview on FIFA’s YouTube channel:

"Often in football matches you miss these, even if you're sitting on the front row.”

He added:

“You have people walking in front of you, you have the manager, you have the referee's assistant, you have people warming up. So it's easy to miss. All FIFA competitions will have video replays. All FIFA competitions will have concussion spotters in the stand who can go through all these things and relay information to the team benches if it is needed. It will just make things an awful lot safer.”

While the news will be welcomed by campaigners - who have been calling for additional measures to protect players for some time - it might still be considered as a first step.

Ex-Norwich City striker Chris Sutton has been campaigning for football authorities to take action over the issue after his father died from the condition. Sutton is calling for a seven-point charter to be adopted by footballing authorities to give players greater protections, which would include dementia being treated as an industrial disease, limiting heading within the game and introducing concussion substitutes.

Elsewhere:

  • The family of former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle have been campaigning on the issue since his death from the disease in 2002.
  • In 2016 former Colchester United and Ipswich Town player Bobby Hunt spoke about having the illness. The 74-year-old played in the 1960s when footballs were harder and heavier than those used in the modern game.
  • Former Norwich City players, centre back Duncan Forbes and Martin Peters, as well as former Cambridge and Peterborough boss Chris Turner have also died from the disease.
  • More recently, former Northampton Saints rugby player Steve Thompson disclosed that he is taking legal action after being diagnosed with early onset dementia.

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